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07topikprojektrew <<rec>>defekt
2. 4. 2003

Urban Sponge - Negotiation of differential Porosities

Eva Scheffler
The Urban Sponge, an inhabitable differential space-frame structure at the waterfront in Hong Kong Central District, provides for a space and time based field of negotiations between circulation spaces, infrastructure and privatised as well as non-commercial public spaces. It responds to fluctuant programmatic, spatial and environmental conditions ranging from the urban to the body scale.

In Hong Kong the culture of shopping together with a trend towards the privatisation of more and more public spaces lead to the point where there is almost just a single “public” activity left, which is the one of shopping and dining. This causes on the one hand a very exclusive, single use activity and on the other hand creates a serious lack of public space in which “real urban activities” could take place.
Therefore the omnipresence of shopping malls in HK is rethought as an inclusive, porous and fluid terrain, interwoven by a wide range of public urban activities, events and informal performances collapsed with pedestrian infrastructure connecting different modes of transport interchange, office buildings and recreation areas at the waterfront. This negotiation does not only aim for a social agenda by provide for multiple public activities to happen within a framework that is easily accessible but also suggest a new model of densification for the world’s densest city.

The Urban Sponge will be part of the redevelopment of the waterfront that will take place between 2003 and 2010, providing new infrastructure for the growing Central district as well as leisure programs, shopping centres and open public space to activate the area at weekends and evenings. The project considers the existing brief but proposes a model that rethinks the interrelation of the needed programs on a time as well as on a space based negotiation.

In order to develop this negotiation, a fourfold research was carried out. Within the field of systemic, programmatic and circulatory studies of different shopping centre typologies specific criteria, guidelines and restrictions, the relation of pedestrian flow and the distribution of shops and program specific parameters and dependencies between different shop categories were investigated by a process of generative mapping. Further research has been conducted on public spaces in Hong Kong including a study of behavioural patterns and occupation strategies. A third part of the investigations explores the changing porosity of differential space-frame structures and the effect they have on pedestrian movement on a systemic scale and the last research category deals with mappings of site specific pedestrian, ferry, train, bus and vehicle flows.

Out of this multi-layered research endeavour a differentiated space-frame structure evolves.
The collected data of pedestrian movements culminated in an animation of activities and directionalities of flow in relation to the arrival and departure rhythms of surrounding modes of transport interchange. This animation allowed a topographical reading of changing densities on site which informed the articulation of a space-frame structure with differential porosities. Relating the scale of the space-frame units to the density of their deployment in any area, a three dimensional global system was developed that is responding to very local conditions. The evolving framework of this responsive structural system was than enriched and further specified on different scales in order to provide for a negotiation of multiple space use over time. At the large scale the structure is studied as a multi-levelled urban sponge system with differential porosities, the medium scale looks at local conditions within certain areas of the space-frame, and the small scale deals with the differentiation of single space-frame members. Material operations were developed as a generative tool to respond on different scales to local fluctuating demands deriving from programmatic, circulatory and environmental conditions.

Due to the emergent complexity of the structure the material operations on different scales are inevitably interwoven and therefore never cause single, predetermined conditions but rather multiple interrelated effects.

Urban Sponge is a diploma project
by Eva Scheffler, in Diploma Unit 14 (tutors: Ciro Najle, Hanif Kara)
at the Architectural Association in London, 2002

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diagram of a shopping mall analysis indicating repetitive patterns of the relation between customer routes, duration, refresh-rate, and shop size


site specific particle animation indicating intensities, densities and rhythms of pedestrian flow according to the oscillating activities of infrastructural attractors and emitters over time


topographical reading of pedestrian flow densities evolving from the particle animation


circular organisational pattern of spaceframe structure evolving from the relation between pedestrian flow densities and required spaces


the articulation of the inhabitable spaceframe is differentiated according to the varying densities of pedestrian flows


evolution of spaceframe structure from initial organisational model (left) to final distribution of horizontal and vertical members (right)


evolving network of potential routes of morning peak hour pedestrian flows negotiated by changing areas of transitional and programmatic zones


expansion and contraction of vertical spaceframe members regulating pedestrian flow directionality and duration


roof plan of the inhabitable spaceframe indicating the distribution of gradient degrees of circulation and duration areas


physical model of the multi-layered inhabitable spaceframe structure


cross section of the inhabitable spaceframe indicating the distribution of gradient degrees of circulation and duration areas

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